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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Madeleine Albright: Will We Stop Trump Before It’s Too Late?

If freedom is to prevail over the many challenges to it, American leadership is urgently required. This was among the indelible lessons of the 20th century. But by what he has said, done and failed to do, Mr. Trump has steadily diminished America’s positive clout in global councils.

Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, he touts the doctrine of “every nation for itself” and has led America into isolated positions on trade, climate change and Middle East peace. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted United States neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations and stripped the State Department of its resources and role. Instead of standing up for the values of a free society, Mr. Trump, with his oft-vented scorn for democracy’s building blocks, has strengthened the hands of dictators. No longer need they fear United States criticism regarding human rights or civil liberties. On the contrary, they can and do point to Mr. Trump’s own words to justify their repressive actions.

At one time or another, Mr. Trump has attacked the judiciary, ridiculed the media, defended torture, condoned police brutality, urged supporters to rough up hecklers and — jokingly or not — equated mere policy disagreements with treason. He tried to undermine faith in America’s electoral process through a bogus advisory commission on voter integrity. He routinely vilifies federal law enforcement institutions. He libels immigrants and the countries from which they come. His words are so often at odds with the truth that they can appear ignorant, yet are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions. Overseas, rather than stand up to bullies, Mr. Trump appears to like bullies, and they are delighted to have him represent the American brand. If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene.

Equally alarming is the chance that Mr. Trump will set in motion events that neither he nor anyone else can control. His policy toward North Korea changes by the day and might quickly return to saber-rattling should Pyongyang prove stubborn before or during talks. His threat to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement could unravel a pact that has made the world safer and could undermine America’s reputation for trustworthiness at a critical moment. His support of protectionist tariffs invites retaliation from major trading partners — creating unnecessary conflicts and putting at risk millions of export-dependent jobs. The recent purge of his national security team raises new questions about the quality of advice he will receive. John Bolton starts work in the White House on Monday.

What is to be done? First, defend the truth. A free press, for example, is not the enemy of the American people; it is the protector of the American people. Second, we must reinforce the principle that no one, not even the president, is above the law. Third, we should each do our part to energize the democratic process by registering new voters, listening respectfully to those with whom we disagree, knocking on doors for favored candidates, and ignoring the cynical counsel: “There’s nothing to be done.”

I’m 80 years old, but I can still be inspired when I see young people coming together to demand the right to study without having to wear a flak jacket.

We should also reflect on the definition of greatness. Can a nation merit that label by aligning itself with dictators and autocrats, ignoring human rights, declaring open season on the environment, and disdaining the use of diplomacy at a time when virtually every serious problem requires international cooperation?

To me, greatness goes a little deeper than how much marble we put in our hotel lobbies and whether we have a Soviet-style military parade. America at its best is a place where people from a multitude of backgrounds work together to safeguard the rights and enrich the lives of all. That’s the example we have always aspired to set and the model people around the world hunger to see. And no politician, not even one in the Oval Office, should be allowed to tarnish that dream.  (Full Story NYT)


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Trump’s Perversion of Leadership

No president in my lifetime has made me think as much about leadership as Donald Trump has. That’s because no president in my lifetime has embodied the ideal of leadership as completely as he embodies its antonym.

A leader articulates a clear vision and set of principles, which become a well-lighted path that well-intentioned people can tread. Trump bellows, babbles and contradicts himself, achieving an incoherence that no level-headed person can follow.

His expectorations this week about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are a baffling case in point. He blamed and shamed Democrats for the absence of any deal to preserve DACA while renouncing the program as a misbegotten magnet for swarms of undocumented immigrants.

Hello? If DACA is a travesty, its assassins are heroes. But then, little about Trump’s DACA gyrations makes sense or respects facts. Democrats have indeed tried, imperfectly, for progress on DACA. Trump and other Republicans have thwarted them.

What’s more, the immigrant swarms that Trump evokes — and that he’s now apparently prepared to deploy the military to stop — don’t really exist, not in comparison with periods past. If they did, DACA wouldn’t be the reason. It protects newcomers who arrived as children before 2007. Trump is being intentionally disingenuous or unintentionally daft.

Is his America a country with a heart or only a spleen? Depends on the hour and audience. Let us not forget how, a short while back, he went from calling for an immigration “bill of love” when the television cameras were rolling to ranting about “shithole countries” when they weren’t. This was the opposite of leadership. It was the quintessence of Trump.

A leader takes some share of responsibility. Trump can’t cycle through scapegoats fast enough. The country is going to hell because of Amazon, the “Justice” department (his quote marks, not mine), the “fake news” media in general, CNN and NBC in particular, Mitch McConnell and Mexico. All of these have been directly or indirectly assailed over the past few days by a president who swerves from epic self-pity to operatic self-aggrandizement, sometimes within one tweet. A leader steers clear of both. (Continues at NYT)

Opinion Columnist, NYT

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Donald Trump is a president built for the past

It seems axiomatic that the past and the future cannot exist at the same time. Thanks to the space-time continuum, people from different centuries cannot live simultaneously. The same goes for a nation, which cannot survive pulling toward the future and toward the past at once.

The United States is at a fulcrum. We are two countries—one lurching for the future, one yearning for the past—that cannot live together, because we can’t be both things. Donald Trump may have brought on the breaking point, but he didn’t create the schism. It was already there for him to exploit. It was there during enslavement, when President Lincoln declared that the country could not survive half slave, half free, and it took a civil war to force these two nations: one brutal but pastoral, the other urban and focused on finance and technological innovation, often with its own kind of cruelty, to remain under one roof.

Today, Trump is speeding us toward decline—the very decline his supporters so feared. His imperious leadership; his family’s grubby pretense at royalty and the apparent mad dash among members of his cabinet and White House team to hawk their positions for cash and luxuries have the feel of a decrepit regime looting the palace in its final days; stuffing the silver in their coats as they flee into exile.

Trump’s announcement of anachronistic trade tariffs this week was portrayed as out of the blue, but it was no such thing. Trump ran on ending multilateral trade agreements and recreating an America of the distant past that culls every human and material resource from within. Republicans who are now in full blown freakout over a potential trade war voted for exactly what they’re getting.

In every way, Donald Trump is a president built for the past; a benighted, late 19th Century figure who spun his supporters a tale that he could restore a bygone era when coal fires burned, factories hummed, steel mills belched out soot and opportunity and a (white) man with a sturdy back, a high school diploma and a song in his heart could buy a little house, marry a little wife and have 3 cherry-cheeked kids he didn’t ever have to cook or clean for, plus if he can afford it, a hot mistress on the side. Trump is the slovenly but brash, gold-plated emblem of a time when in the imagination of his followers, black women hummed a tune while they cleaned your house or did the washing, black men tipped their hat on the street but didn’t dare look you in the eye, and neither would dream of moving in next door. A time when women asked their husbands for an allowance, not their boss for a promotion, men were “allowed to be men” complete with ribald jokes and a slap on the fanny for the pretty secretary at work, and there were no gays, no trans people, no birth control … they somehow just didn’t exist! The rural folks were the salt of the earth and we only let in “a certain kind of immigrant” whose only goal was to shake off his ethnicity and “assimilate.” Everyone went to (separate) church on Sundays and everyone “got along.” It’s a plasticine world that for many must feel like it truly existed, though of course it never did.  (continues at Daily Beast)